WASHINGTON.- President Donald Trump defended Gina Haspel, his nominee to head the Central Intelligence Agency, on Monday, dismissing criticism of her involvement in a harsh interrogation program and arguing that Democrats want her out because she “is too tough on terror.”
Haspel had offered to withdraw her nomination, administration officials said, amid concern that a debate over interrogation practices that some call torture was attracting unfavorable attention and could hurt the CIA.
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She would not want to stay in “if she felt her nomination would be a problem” for the CIA, but the White House has complete confidence in her, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Monday.
Haspel was meeting at the Capitol Monday with senators whose support could be key to her confirmation. Asked if there was any chance she would withdraw, Haspel told reporters, “Looking forward to Wednesday,” when she will be questioned by the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Trump said earlier on Twitter that Haspel has “come under fire because she was too tough on Terrorists.” “Win Gina!” he tweeted. White House aides on Friday sought out additional details about Haspel’s involvement in the CIA’s now-defunct program of detaining and brutally interrogating terror suspects after the Sept. 11 attacks as they prepared her for the confirmation hearing.
This is when she offered to withdraw, officials said. They said Haspel, who is the acting director of the CIA, was reassured that her nomination was still on track. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.
The news was first reported Sunday by The Washington Post. Haspel, who would be the first woman to lead the CIA, is the first career operations officer to be nominated to lead the agency in decades. She served almost entirely undercover, and much of her record is classified.